It has become quite common to find foreign nationals learning Korean as a hobby thanks to the huge popularity of Korean stars and television dramas overseas. Even television shows like “Misuda,” where a panel of Korean-speaking foreign nationals discuss Korea, have become familiar to most Koreans.
But it seems like more non-Koreans are studying Korean academically nowadays. Rather than attending private language academies, many choose to go to graduate schools to get a Korean literature & language masters or doctoral degree.
In fact, the number of such students has been growing sharply over the past few years to the point where some are saying that the number of foreign Korean literature & language students is similar to locals.
Experts explain that such a phenomenon has resulted from the increasing number of foreign nationals who desire to become Korean language specialists. This is thanks to the extra attention the country and its culture have been receiving from abroad.
“The international status of the Korean language has been elevated as the demand for studying the language more deeply has grown among foreign nationals. Some of them now choose to study even academic fields like traditional Korean literature,” Sungkyunkwan University Korean language professor Kwon In-han said.
Students at the Yonsei Korean Language Institute participate in a writing contest. More foreign nationals are studying the language academically these days, and attending graduate schools. The Korea Herald
Students gathering at the Korean literature & language departments of local universities vary largely in their nationalities.
Whereas in the past, the Chinese and Japanese comprised most of the foreign students, those from other countries including Uzbekistan, Myanmar and the United States have also been growing in numbers.
A recent incident Yonsei University Korean language professor Kang Hyoun-hwa experienced illustrates the trend.
Kang was surprised to see the long list of students for her contrastive linguistics course for the spring semester.
“It was the first time that I actually had to divide a graduate course into multiple classes. I even felt quite puzzled at first looking at the students of various races and nationalities,” she said.
The growing number of foreign graduate school students is not only the case for Yonsei University. The number of foreign graduate school students at Yonsei University; Korea University; Sogang University; Sungkyunkwan University; Hanyang University and Seoul National University was 237, which accounted for over 30 percent of the total.
Most of these students who select the Korean language or Korean language education as their major intend to work as Korean language professors, instructors or trade experts in their home countries after graduation.
The Korean government has played a big role in drawing foreign students to local universities. It has been offering scholarship programs like the “Study Korea Project” to promote Korean language and culture abroad.
The number of Korean language students coming to the country on the Korean Government Scholarship Program has increased by more than five times over the past nine years. The number increased from 7 in 2000, 20 in 2006 to 38 in 2008, according to the National Institute for International Education.
Meanwhile, professors and academics evaluate such a trend positively, saying that it would help boost Korean language studies in general.
“Due to the growing number of foreign students who study it, Korean has now become an international language. Thus we now need to be able to make Korean grammar and vocabulary ― which we often consider ‘natural’ ― more logically understandable for them,” Kwon said.
Kwon also said due to the increasing number of non-Koreans studying Korean-language education, the field has now become recognized as an independent discipline, with a considerable amount of papers and research published. Until now, it has been considered a branch of Korean literature studies.
By Koh Young-aah (firstname.lastname@example.org)